My fellow Fijians,
What a wonderful day to be here in Nadi. To be in the West. What a wonderful day to be Fijian! To be able to say again: Go Fiji Go! Go Fiji Go! Go Fiji Go!
To our returning Olympic Team, welcome home! You have all brought great credit to our nation. And especially our Rugby Seven’s Olympic Gold medalists – coach Ben Ryan, captain Osea Kolinisau and the rest of our world-beating team.
And to all of you – my fellow Fijians – thank you for turning out in such numbers here in Prince Charles Park this afternoon for this wonderful celebration.
As Prime Minister, I cannot tell you how good it is to be home after being in Rio De Janeiro on your behalf to support our Olympic team. To arrive back in the best little country in the world with these wonderful ambassadors for Fiji. Truly the pride of our nation.
Under the leadership of our Chef De Mission, Cathy Wong, our sportsmen and women have, without exception, given the world a lesson in sportsmanship and brought great credit to Fiji. You played your hearts out in Rio and did so with determination, dignity and in the true spirit of Olympic competition. You have set a standard of behaviour for the whole world to follow and are all wonderful role models for young Fijians.
Even if you fell short of winning a medal, you should feel very proud of being good enough to make it to Rio. The important thing is to compete. And you have all done so under our national flag in manner that has made your nation very proud.
I personally saw many of you not only do very well in your various events but set a standard of behaviour for the whole world to follow. You have certainly all been wonderful role models for young Fijians. And I hope that the happy memories of these Games will stay with you for the rest of your lives.
In the case of our Rugby Seven’s team, you went for Gold and you have brought back Gold! Hold them up Boys! Gold, Gold Gold! Go Fiji Go!
My Fellow Fijians, this is a wonderful day in our nation’s history. Just as it was when Fiji came to a halt last Friday week to watch our World Champions beat Great Britain in the first Rugby Sevens competition ever to be held at the Olympic Games.
We have been going to the Olympics since 1956. And while we have always done our best, unfortunately our best wasn’t enough to win us a medal.
The drought broke in 2012 when Iliesa Delana won Gold at the Paralympics in London. And let us never forget the thrill of that victory and the way our spirits were lifted by the brave man who is now my Assistant Minister for Sports.
But in Rio, we have really come of age as a sporting nation – storming to Gold at the summer Olympics and in the one sport we play better than anyone else.
When the International Olympic Committee introduced Rugby Sevens for the first time, this was it. This was our moment. And what a wonderful moment it is.
I want to say to the many young people who are here today – the future of our nation: You are all very lucky to be growing up in truly a golden age for Fiji. In the years to come, you will relive these memories over and over. You will pass them on to your own children and grandchildren. Because it is an epic moment. Among our proudest days as a nation. A time to remember forever.
To a massive global audience, we showed the world what Fijians are made of. The character of our people. As a nation, we may be small but we are strong. We may have limited resources but we are determined. And we are unbeatable, especially when we play together effectively as a team.
Millions of viewers on five continents watched as we gave the world a lesson in how seven’s rugby should be played. As we did so, the attention of the whole world focussed on our tiny group of islands. And for one brief shining moment, we were at the centre of the world stage.
On the day of our win, more people searched for Fiji on the Internet than for any other subject. So boys, not only have you brought home Gold. You have seized the spotlight for Fiji in a way that no-one else has ever done before. And in a manner that is sure to have all sorts of benefits for every Fijian in the months and years ahead. More international visitors. More jobs. An even stronger economy. And something even more important. A tremendous boost to our pride and self-confidence as a nation.
Because of you, Fiji stands taller in the world today than ever before. Because of you, the Fijian spirit has soared higher than ever before. Wherever people live, they saw that Fijian spirit in action in Rio. And not only were they deeply impressed, it lifted their own spirits too.
Our performance inspired people who have never visited Fiji and have barely heard of us. So the kailas weren’t just shouted in Fiji. As we powered ahead on the field in Rio, the sight of our small nation punching above its weight captured people’s hearts and imaginations the world over.
It tapped into the deep-seated longing of all humans for heroes. For underdogs transforming themselves through sheer willpower into champions. And all over the world, ordinary people were willing us on.
Even in Great Britain many people were saying Go Fiji Go! And we went for it! We delivered. We have proved that with teamwork, nothing is impossible. We have proved that with proper leadership and inspiration, nothing can hold us back. And that is why I want to thank you all so warmly for setting a standard for every Fijian to follow. For the world to follow.
And it wasn’t just on the field. Your spontaneous action in kneeling before Her Royal Highness Princess Ann to receive your medals also sent our spirits soaring. We are a competitive people. We are a proud people. But nothing makes us prouder than to see our champions upholding our precious traditions of behaving with modesty and respect.
Why was the world so impressed? Why were so many stories written about what happened when you received your medals? Because you gave the world a lesson from our tiny corner of the planet about the proper way to behave in victory. A lesson about good sportsmanship. Of honouring those who honour you.
So we also thank you for the example you set for young people everywhere. And also for showing us that no matter how important individual effort is, it is teamwork that ultimately counts the most. In this case, our Sevens Rugby team setting a standard for all of us to emulate – every single citizen – as members of Team Fiji. One nation. One people. Working together with our eyes on the future. With our eyes set on achieving greatness.
Ben, thank you for your inspirational leadership and the dedication and discipline you brought to this victory. For the way you moulded these talented men into a world class fighting force. For believing in them. For believing in victory. For believing in Fiji.
The fact that so many Fijians have named their children after you shows the huge place you occupy in our hearts. We thank you for showing us a path to victory and leading us there.
I think you already know, Ben, that you may go on to bigger things but they won’t necessarily be better things. Because you will never be more fondly regarded, never more loved, than you are in Fiji.
In the world of rugby, the big money certainly isn’t here in Fiji. But the biggest hearts definitely are. And every Fijian joins me in saying vinaka vakalevu! Wherever the future takes you, the very best wishes of all of us will always go with you and your family.
Osea and the rest of the boys: I cannot tell you how much it meant for Mary and I to sit in the stands in Rio beside our fellow Fijians and witness at first hand your magic on the field. I have never seen Sevens rugby played so well. And I know that the thrill and the pride I felt was shared by every Fijian watching at home. In every school hall. In every community, every office, every factory. A surge of joy that spilled onto the streets and brought us together as a nation in a unique and very special way.
My Fellow Fijians, I will have more to say at the ANZ Stadium in Suva tomorrow about how I think we can to tap this surge of pride and unity to move our beloved Fiji forward. But for the moment – to all of you in our Olympic team who played your hearts out in Rio – please enjoy the moment to the fullest.
You are back in your beloved Fiji and every Fijian joins me in saying: Welcome home and congratulations on a job well done.
Congratulations for inspiring us. Congratulations for making us proud.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you. And again – Go Fiji Go!